Publicis Groupe’s EVP, global head of production speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about how the metaverse could impact production, why Marcel was the perfect tool to help him get to grips with a new job, and why producers are no longer only ‘creative enablers’
Pulse Films predicts that the changes the industry is going through now will define the future of production, a thought that's the driving force behind this exclusive interview series on Little Black Book. Covering four key themes, the series will investigate how the pandemic has affected production and the shape of things to come.
Next up in the series is Sergio Lopez, Publicis Groupe's EVP, global head of production, a role that he began in January of this year and that is befitting of his impressive CV. Prior to joining the Groupe, Sergio was chief production officer for McCann UK & EMEA and UK & EMEA CEO of Craft Worldwide, McCann’s dedicated production division. Within the first five years of developing and leading Craft Europe, Sergio developed a new production model that grew the business from a team of 12 to over 500, and won over 425 awards at major creative festivals, including Cannes Lions, D&AD and The One Show.
Other stops in his career include Anomaly as global head of integrated production, JWT New York as head of integrated production, and Wunderman Thompson New York as director of brand production. Sergio’s earlier days in advertising saw stints at Leo Burnett Madrid and Chicago, so this new venture marks somewhat of a homecoming to Publicis Groupe.
To find out more about the role and his general views on the state of production in advertising in 2022 and beyond, LBB’s Addison Capper chatted with Sergio.
LBB> How do you feel production and producers are perceived today? And how does that compare to other moments in your career?
Sergio> That's a good question. I think a ‘producer’ has shifted from being solely a creative enabler. When I started, production was part of the creative department and a producer was somebody who was very much a creative making-it-happen kind of role. That hasn't disappeared - something I find difficult sometimes is that people think that everything is either-or whereas I see it almost like going to school.
Doing creative production is like going to elementary school - it's the basics. If you cannot do creative stuff, if you cannot elevate the creative, you're not a producer, you are a project manager, you are a production broker. So that thing at the beginning of my career was like going to elementary school.
Then it became about integrated production, writing about how you connect television and print and digital together, and that was almost like high school. Then we went into content and that was like going to uni - it started getting real and you had to figure out how to do huge commercials and content for everybody. And now we have graduated, it's a very complicated world and the role of a producer is somebody that clients want to talk to about their career and the business. Once again, that doesn't mean that we’re not creative producers anymore or that we're not cool or we can’t have tattoos - because we can. But it's a layer on top of that, where we need to be able to - if we're truly a creative business - behave like companies that are creative businesses, like Apple that has amazing technology and beautiful design or Disney, who do some of the most beautiful pieces of entertainment.
LBB> Your school analogy is a very helpful way of laying that out.
Sergio> The biggest shift for producers is in the mentality of people, including myself, that went to art school and it was all about the craft side of the business - all of a sudden we had to start thinking about things that we didn't feel comfortable with. And actually, some of us came to the business because we were rebelling against going into business school, and all of a sudden we're in that world because that is what’s needed. That's the conversation that clients want to have right now: ‘I’m doing Instagram, Facebook, commerce, social, TV, print - I'm doing all this stuff at the same time. My budget is the same. It needs to look beautiful. How do I make it?’.
LBB> Do you think it's fair to say we're going through a renaissance for the craft in filmmaking right now? What's fuelling/impeding that?
Sergio> A conversation that we’ve had many times while judging the Immortal Awards is that people confuse craft with scale. There's a misunderstanding that craft is only craft if you're doing Guinness Surfer and you're spending £3 million. The conversation about craft, to me, is twofold. It’s the ability to understand how to do something that intentionally appeals to people and to be able to do it in a way that you can repeat it and learn from it. Something that appeals to people doesn't always need to be expensive and huge and amazing. Of course, the television ads, the 60-second ads for the Super Bowl and stuff are great, but sometimes you see a campaign done with people shooting on iPhones and we're seeing a lot of that. We saw a lot of that a few years ago when it was like this testimonial kind of voice-to-camera or a slow-motion kind of documentary where you could do a lot of things with very little.
I'm very excited about a new way of storytelling that we are seeing in feature films like The Mitchells vs The Machines, advertising for some smaller indie brands, or even when Megaforce did Nike ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ a few years ago. It’s a narrative that is very much influenced by social media. Now, I'm starting to see a new way of storytelling that is influenced by how gen Z is consuming on their devices and how this translates into storytelling. It's very frantic and sometimes it feels quite pastiche. That’s going to be the craft for the next few years - and I think that's fine. I don't think that it needs to be shot on film or photographed with a Hasselblad camera. Craft is something that people connect with and becomes something that we know how to repeat.
LBB> We've heard a lot about the Marcel platform and what it has done for Publicis Groupe, especially over the pandemic, but have you had a chance to see what its impact is or could be on production? If so, what are your thoughts?
Sergio> My role is in production but it's also in group leadership, so it's a daunting challenge to arrive at a company the size of Publicis Groupe on a global level and have to learn the business. But it’s the first time that I've been at a company that has a tool like Marcel. I have to say, it's been very useful. It’s the kind of thing that once you start using it, you start thinking about how anybody works without something like it. Not only is it a fantastic library of existing knowledge about the company but it's a very easy way to communicate, so very quickly I became familiar with the company and the culture. It’s a fantastic way of connecting with people, my team globally now is almost 3000 people, and I'm not saying that as a way to flaunt but as a way to give perspective. Being able to collaborate through a tool that uses artificial intelligence to connect people and provide relevant search is fantastic - the speed at which I've been able to access knowledge and connect is fantastic. Getting access to case studies of what we have done and what we have - I don't see how a modern communications group at this scale can work without something like this.
LBB> Is there a recent piece of work from your time at Publicis that you're particularly proud of?
Sergio> I’m a big fan of the Samsung spider ad - ‘Love has no boundaries’ - from Leo Burnett Germany. It's a beautiful piece of work. I think that it's such a beautiful story that connects emotional insight and it’s beautifully produced. It’s always challenging using CGI animals and CGI characters but it’s a beautifully done piece of work that I absolutely love.
LBB> Thinking back, is there one piece of work from your career that you're most proud of / is particularly memorable and why?
Sergio> ‘The Survival Billboard’ for Xbox was a tipping point in my career when, for the first time, I had the challenge of building something from scratch. I came to the UK at a time when, in the UK, everything that wasn’t TV or print was called ‘bits and bobs’. I was seen as an alien talking about content and things like that. Within a year, if you remember McCann in 2014, it was in a great place. We had all started this project - Rob [Doubal] and Laurence [Thompson] and Theo [Izzard-Brown] - we had taken over this agency that everybody loved to hate and were doing ‘The Survival Billboard’, which was very difficult to identify as it was out-of-home, it was digital, it was TV, it was everything. That's a piece of work that I feel especially proud of because it was a byproduct of a very personal project to me and I think in this business we’re all a little bit self-taught and we all suffer from imposter syndrome. It was a confirmation that I'm not crazy and that what I always thought about integrated production and the value of creativity works.
LBB> What do you think are the most important things the production side of the industry needs to do to support up and coming talent and make sure clients get more diverse perspectives on their briefs?
Sergio> There are two separate questions. One is about great talent and the other one is about diverse talent. And even though they're connected, they're not the same. Regarding diversity, there are two elements. Firstly, I think that sometimes we underestimate the lack of awareness that there is around the existence of our business, for a lot of people. I can tell you from experience that a lot of people from certain underprivileged backgrounds don't even know that advertising is something that exists in production. That's why a lot of them end up in music, television or feature films and they transition later. That is the very first thing that we can do.
The second one is that we need to remember that we are a people business. And for some reason we felt, as an industry some years ago, that mentorship wasn't necessary. But advertising is a strange business, right? When you get into advertising production it's not something that’s studied at university, it's not something that there are courses about. Again, there's very low awareness about it. So once we create awareness, then we have to train and mentor people because even though there's a lot of awareness, it's a very tricky business we're talking about. It's very marketing-driven, there's a lot of business sides, there is a creative side, you have to be able to bridge conversations from creativity to strategy to media and clients. And to do it well, it requires people that are very multifaceted. I've personally been lucky to have a combination of places where I’ve worked and the kind of talent that I’ve worked with that have mentored me to be where I am now. If I hadn't been exposed to those people, I wouldn't be able to do this, so it's a combination of awareness and mentorship. These career development efforts are coming back because we're realising, alongside representation, the need to continue to develop our talent.
LBB> Can you tell us one thing that you believe we are certain to have in store for the future of production?
Sergio> If I get philosophical, the future of production is going to be different and it's going to be the same. What's going to matter is creative and what’s going to be different is the output. The tension between those two things that’s always playing is that the ‘how to do it’ doesn't get in the way of what we're doing.
LBB> What are your thoughts on the metaverse and maybe how that could impact production?
Sergio> The metaverse is very front and centre in all the conversations about production right now. It makes sense. It feels like when digital came out. It was like: ‘The future is all digital!’ Digital is big, it's huge and there's a lot of good stuff on digital, and there's a lot of things that work in the metaverse. But digital was nothing until Google came on board and you could search websites.
I remember being given for Christmas a physical book with URLs of websites. It was like a phonebook for websites. And it's the same thing with the metaverse right now. There's a lot of cool stuff that can be done - I’ve worked closely with Google and Facebook and others and I've seen phenomenal things. It all makes total sense in a lot of different ways. Do I think that it’s going to become a hit when currently to get into the metaverse you have to open a Coinbase account and then a wallet account to then get in… it feels like it needs the equivalent of Google. Maybe that's what Meta’s role is going to be? But then more important is exploring the experience and role that the metaverse is going to play in the consumer’s journey.